Won’t You Be My Neighbor – African Infrastructure being Abused and Unused
“If a continent is divided in to a patchwork of tiny countries, countries too small to have internalized key externalities, vital public goods will be missing.” - Paul Collier, Wars Guns and Votes
Infrastructure Reform – a critical platform for one running for elected office in Africa against the incumbent. Roads, schools, houses and yes, power are crucial to appeasing citizenry, allowing for civil discourse and therefore furthering political capital. And it is here, in infrastructure reform, where there is the most opportunity for change due to there simply being colossal change needed.
In many countries in Africa, the generation of electricity and the provision of road and rail networks are established regionally rather than nationally. Historically, the radically large territories ran colonially were one reason why their infrastructure decisions were superior to those of post-independence governments.
Let’s use an example – The Congo River. Only specialists know about INGA, the site for the biggest hydropower potential in the world, situated on the Congo River, some 200 km downstream from Kinshasa. Eberhard Rhein from Blogactiv.eu stated that “with its 44 GW, it is able to generate more hydropower than either the Itaipu or the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze, so far the biggest hydropower plants on earth. If developed, it would be able to supply all of Africa with electricity, without any C02 emissions. Unlike most hydropower plants INGA would not flood either major cities or forests and fertile land, just rocks and barren land“.
INGA has been known for decades.
The Democratic Republic of Congo does not itself need all that power, while other countries are not willing to put themselves at the mercy of the Presidents of any of the countries that power lines might have to traverse. The excess of national sovereignty possessed by these leaders have brought nothing but power shortages across the region.
Another example -as a huge landmass, Africa is obviously well-suited to railways. Many were built by the colonizing powers. Today, there is a severe shortage of rolling stock. It should be easy to finance rolling stock: a rail company can raise finance by pledging the stock itself as collateral. The stock is currently not accepted, based on the predication that it might roll away over a national frontier. This lack of neighbouhood cooperation, as Paul Collier has put it, is exactly what I’m talking about.
The need for understanding and inter-dependence is now. Even a dictator can admit that regional cooperation is the least invasive challenge to national sovereignty, and so if it is feasible, it is at this level that accountability needs to be undertaken, even if it forgoes popular questions of benevolence.
Africa urgently needs additional power generation capacities to meet the rising and even suppressed demand for power. The region has abundant natural resources, which power producers can easily transform into energy.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, entitled Investment Opportunities for Independent Power Producers in West Africa, finds that perceptive independent power producers (IPPs) can identify countries with secure sources of fuel and lower political risks that offer lucrative opportunities. The next few years will hopefully see the emergence of a stronger market, greater cooperation, perhaps stronger foreign “colonization” (that from China) and who knows? Maybe new leadership with platforms of cooperation in infrastructure and the connections to make it happen.